On the Job with a PT Who Treats Osteosarcoma

One of my absolute favorite parts of going to conferences is meeting fellow PTs who are just as obsessed with oncology as I am. 

Earlier this year, I met (& nearly tackled) Dr. Jen Bernstein in San Antonio at CSM 2022.  Jen is a board certified oncologic clinical specialist who specializes in pediatric oncology & stopped by the podcast again to give us a masterclass on osteosarcomas & how PTs help this unique patient population. 

The secret perks of being a board certified specialist

Jen & I initially connected at the ABPTS recognition ceremony for newly certified specialists at CSM 2022, so of course we’re going to talk about board certification.

One of the coolest opportunities that board certification has opened up for Jen was publishing an article!  While board certification is NOT a prerequisite for publishing, it certainly helped Jen get connected with people who helped make it happen.

She also notes that she’s more able to get other health care professionals on board for rehab earlier in the process & to advance initiatives to better serve her patients.

How Jen works with patients diagnosed with osteosarcoma

Jen truly sees patients from diagnosis (or even sometimes before) all the way through treatment & beyond.  And while she is a specialist in a pediatric institution, this experience is not limited to just a children’s hospital.  As Jen mentions, these patients sometimes will go to outpatient ortho PT for “pain,” & then get the referral for imaging from there.  

Let’s hear it for red flags, right???

Once the patient is diagnosed, Jen spends a lot of time on education.  Topics include what the diagnosis means, potential side effects, & weight-bearing status.  Weight-bearing status is a MASSIVELY important thing that patients must adhere to, because it could mean the difference between limb salvage & an amputation.

When it comes to what Jen works on with her patients, it depends.  The side effects & impairments really depend on what treatment the patients are undergoing, what their disease looks like, what surgery they had, etc.

Before surgery, sessions can involve a lot of pre-op strengthening the whole body and proximal/distal to where the tumor is located.  Jen frequently patients along with her OT colleagues to focus on ADLs.  Part of Jen’s job is also providing assistive devices & educating patients on how to use them.

Post-operatively, it’s critical that these patients work on their range of motion (per surgical precautions, etc.) & safe transfers/mobility.  These patients can experience significant gait abnormalities, which can truly look differently on every single patient.  Beyond this, patients may require edema management, incentive spirometer work, ADL training, pain management, & transfer practice.  

Family/caregiver education is critical to maintain progress once the patient is discharged from the hospital.  

A gut-punching truth: metastases & osteosarcoma

As unthinkable as it is, young people (including children) can develop metastatic cancer.  Maybe this seems like a no-brainer, but this is staggering.

But here’s the thing: cancer sucks & cancer doesn’t discriminate.  Young people aren’t exempt from metastases.  

So patients who are being treated & even diagnosed with osteosarcoma may experience metastases, which may necessitate additional treatment like thoracotomies.

More from this episode:

If you’re looking for more amazing stuff from Jen, check out these links below.

Listen to my previous interview with Jen here.

Read Jen’s article here.

Email Jen.

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